All posts by trippinwithsenora aka Jodi Resch Brownell

Spanish teacher, traveler, foodie, culture junkie, golfer, skier, diver, yogi

Road Trippin’ With Señora Part 3– Mendocino to Redwoods National Park

Winding up Highway 1 out of Little River/Mendocino and then hitting Highway 101 in Leggett, we made our way through more beautiful landscapes, but nothing prepares a person for their first time entering Avenue of the Giants.  IMG_0648This drive up 101 is one of the most awe-inspiring stretches on the planet.  Stop often, take photos, IMG_0647and just simply walk and stare upward, taking it all in.  IMG_0636Once we had reached stimulus overload, we continued on past Trinidad to the Lost Whale Inn https://lostwhaleinn.com/ near Patrick’s Point State Park.  The Lost Whale takes hospitality to a new level.  We were welcomed with a spread of food in the dining room that was substantial enough to be our dinner: cheeses, crudités, clam chowder, cookies, fruit, and shrimp.  This type of evening appetizer buffet is put out every night from 4-6 pm.  Did I mention the wine?  IMG_0658That also flows freely starting at 4:00 and is kept out the rest of the night.  Beer, soda, juices, and water are also complimentary to guests.

The rooms of the inn are top notch with all of the comforts you’d expect at a place of this caliber.  Our room, the Agate Room, IMG_0657was on the main floor off of a small living room that is closed off in the evening and becomes a nice extension of the guest room.  Wandering the gorgeous grounds of the property was a highlight of the stay here.  There are so many cozy spots to stare out at the Pacific—the deck, the patio, the hot tub, the sauna, and the fire pit, where a basket with s’mores supplies is put out every night.  IMG_0665The sunset watching here, accompanied by the never-ending sound of sea lions barking, makes for an unforgettable farewell to the day. We were lucky enough to stay two nights at this magical place.

After a great night’s sleep, we rose early to walk the beach at Patrick’s Point.  IMG_0681Unfortunately the entire inn got an early wake-up call as well when we accidentally hit the panic button on our rental car.  Sorry, neighbors!  In the park, a walk along Agate Beach is a must-do.  Absolutely stunning!  I am not great at agate spotting, but I picked what I believe were some– free souvenirs of a special setting.

Back at the inn breakfast was about to be served, starting with the ringing of a bell and a description of items and ingredients by chef/owner Brian.  Guests with dietary restrictions were also well accommodated with additional gluten and dairy-free options.  That morning’s menu consisted of a Caprese frittata, crepes with strawberry rhubarb filling, apple strudel, a peach almond cobbler, sausage and bacon, and fresh fruit.  The breakfasts here were a total extravaganza!  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  In fact, I was so overwhelmed both mornings that I failed to take any food photos.  Did I mention the ongoing stimulus overload?

So what does one do after a breakfast of that magnitude?  Hike, of course!  And so we headed off to Redwoods National Park.  There are so many great trails to choose from so your schedule will dictate where you should go.  We started at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a very popular spot.  From the main trail, we branched off on my favorite trail of the trip—Berry Glen Trail—where we saw not one other person!  This breathtaking stretch of woods had quite a drop in elevation so we had to be wise about how far down we went, knowing we’d have to go uphill to get back out.  IMG_0701Later that afternoon we also hiked the underwhelming Redwoods Creek Trail, a nice enough spot to have our picnic of gourmet deli sandwiches from Murphy’s in Trinidad.

After that we braved the extremely rough road back into Fern Canyon.  It takes an effort to get there, but is well worth it.  Fern Canyon was a setting for Jurassic Park and the otherworldly feeling of the place shows why. IMG_0707 Sheer canyon walls covered with ferns and trickling water and a rocky creek cutting through the center create a magical place, especially for children with all the trees and rocks for them to climb on.  Bring extra socks.

Once stimulus overload once again reared its head, we were dreading the drive back on the awful road, but were rewarded with another great evening appetizer spread back at the Lost Whale.  While the inn is high on a cliff, they do have a VERY rustic and steep path IMG_0722down to a rocky beach and I ventured down there with my wine.  Maybe not my best decision after a day of hiking, but I did it!  When I returned a family we met was talking about getting some burgers to go from The Lighthouse Grill and asked if we wanted some as well.  As we had already eaten 10,000 calories that day, the answer was of course…yes.  In addition to the burgers we ordered, they brought us an added surprise treat: the restaurant’s signature item of a waffle cone filled with mashed potatoes, bacon, beef and gravy, topped with cheese.  Do the calorie math on that one!  I should have gone right to bed and let my body begin to prepare for the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, but instead we joined some other guests for wine and excellent fireside conversation until 10:00.  What an amazing, full (pun intended) day!

The following morning, our last at the inn before heading up the coast to Oregon, began with another walk down the steep path to the rocky beach below.  IMG_0721Returning to the inn just in time for breakfast, you can imagine how much we were starving!  Thankfully they had prepared a light breakfast of puffy pancakes, apple-filled pastries, a triple berry pie, Southwest frittata, sausage and bacon, fried potatoes, and fresh fruit.  I decided to be responsible and just have the fresh fruit.  Just kidding.  Fruit was actually the only thing I didn’t have (unless it was inside of a baked good).

After that we rolled out of the Lost Whale Inn, or should I say Beached Whalin’?

Next stop—the Oregon Coast!

 

 

 

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Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 2– San Francisco to Mendocino

IMG_0624Within minutes of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, heading north on Highway 1, you feel the stress of the city dissolve.  This highway makes you …slow….down.  Mentally and literally.  Part of our slowdown was due to the annual Dip Sea race through Muir Woods area, ending at Stinson Beach.  This detoured and delayed us for a couple hours and to be honest, I don’t exactly know where the detour took us, but the forests and curves IMG_0560were breathtaking and a great introduction to Northern California.

Once we finally cleared the race area we made our lunch stop at The Marshall Store on Tomales Bay.  At this tiny roadside shack IMG_0567that was packed midday, we ordered a dozen Oysters Rockefeller and a half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  IMG_0569Unfortunately the wind coming across the bay was fierce and any purchased wine had to be consumed outside on the picnic tables.  IMG_0568And so I donned my down jacket and hat and enjoyed the fabulous lunch and wine, wishing for the ceasing of the gusts.

Following lunch we continued northward through rural areas for several hours before arriving in Little River, just south of Mendocino, at The Glendeven Inn.  The sign boasts “A Luxury Farmstead”—someone has an English degree!  IMG_0610It was a spot on description though.  From the moment we pulled into our personally marked parking space to the time we entered our room, East Farmington, perfection continued until we pulled back onto Highway 1 the next morning.  Special touches, besides the beautifully appointed room overlooking the Pacific, IMG_0580the gardens, and the llama pasture, IMG_0591included a personalized note with homemade welcome brownies, IMG_0616the wood burning fireplace—prepped and ready to light, the wine and gourmet appetizer reception at the Wine Bar(n), and the piece de resistance, the over the top breakfast IMG_0620IMG_0619delivered in a picnic basket to our door at 9:00 am.  We were able to squeeze in one more crackling fire while enjoying the best breakfast accompanied by a carafe of hot chocolate that must’ve had two candy bars melted into it, it was that rich!

We spent a lot of time during our stay wandering the grounds and having tea and cookies in the main house, a place that boasted former guests Bill and Hilary Clinton.  We also found the beach pathIMG_0608across the road that led down to a quiet beach IMG_0604where we strolled in the afternoon and early morning.  Sadly after our lovely breakfast we had to pack up and continue northward.  We could’ve spent weeks at The Glendeven.

Next stop—Trinidad and the Redwoods!

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 1–San Francisco

For over a decade, the “West Coast Roadtrip” has been on our list so to further celebrate our 20th anniversary we made our plans for June 2017 with the route of San Francisco to Vancouver.  The game plan was as follows:

1.Fly to San Francisco and stay two nights

2. Rent a car for six days upon leaving the city, drive up Highway 1 to Mendocino for the night

3. On to Trinidad/Redwoods for two nights

4.Drive the Oregon Coast, stop for one night in Yachats and one night in Astoria

5. Continue the drive to Portland (end of car rental) and stay two nights

6. Fly to Victoria, British Colombia and stay one night

7. Take the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and stay two nights there

8. Original plan was Amtrak train back to Seattle (**more about this snafu later)

9. Two nights in Seattle and fly home

The idea was to cover highlights of the Pacific Northwest in a two week period and overall it was a success.  Exhausting, but a success!

This trip will be broken into five blog entries: San Francisco, Northern California, Oregon, British Colombia, and Seattle.

And so begins Part One—San Francisco

The arrival to San Francisco went off without a hitch.  They really know how to do public transportation in SF. The BART is a great way to get from the airport to the Union Square area.  Our hotel, the Taj Campton Place https://taj.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj-campton-place-san-francisco/ was about one block from Union Square.  IMG_0440Every hotel on this trip, with the exception of the inns/B&B’s, was booked on the Hotwire site so they were basically blind picks that turned out great and we saved hundreds of dollars.

After settling in, we embarked on a walk through Chinatown, IMG_0508IMG_1151just two blocks from the hotel, and after meandering through the area stopped for lunch at Great Eastern Restaurant http://www.greateasternsf.com/. Dim sum is the hot ticket here and the place was packed, but we ended up going with a dinner for two of hot & sour soup, short ribs, shrimp balls (insert middle school sense of humor here), Cantonese beef, and shrimp with scallops. Yum.

To burn off those calories, we walked to the Cable Car Museum and then jumped a cable car for the requisite, short, pricey ride back to Union Square.  IMG_0532After a change of shoes we caught a public bus to Fisherman’s Wharf. I must add here that even though it was June, it was very windy when we were there and we were glad to have packed our down jackets!  The wharf is a touristy area but on a Friday was enjoyable and not too crowded.  We drove past on Saturday and it was a Disney-esque hell. As we love boats, we took our time strolling along the wharf until ending at the famous Pier 39. IMG_0473Here we checked out the sea lions barking away IMG_0469and grabbed bowls of clam chowder at Boudin.  Sorry, no trip out to Alcatraz Island—we aren’t interested in going to prison.  Even voluntarily…IMG_0463

And so we called it a day and returned to the hotel via a vintage streetcar. IMG_0461

The following day we were blessed with perfect weather and did a hop on, hop off City Tour bus with our first stop being the Golden Gate Bridge.  IMG_0486The views from this spot will leave you breathless: the bridge, the cityscape, Alcatraz Island, sailboats—perfection!  As you can imagine this is one of the most popular stops of the bus tour so when we got back on the bus, there was only one other couple continuing on in the loop so we all had a “private tour” upstairs in the front row for the next hour.  It was great!

Stomachs began growling so we hopped off at the North Beach stop and dined in the Italian neighborhood at Caffe Sport, http://www.caffesportsf.com/ an adorable Sicilian restaurant.  IMG_0509Because we ate lunch so early (no breakfast!) we were the only ones in the place and we received excellent service and were able to soak up every bit of the old country ambiance inside.  We had one of the best lunches of the trip here—Caprese salad, IMG_0522followed by cioppino bianco (I’ve never met a cioppino I didn’t like!) IMG_0527and rustico penne with shrimp and scallops, IMG_0529washed down with a lovely bottle of Montepulciano wine.

Walking out of the restaurant the City Tour bus was pulling up so we had a nice food nap while we rode to Golden Gate Park. This huge, beautiful urban green space was an excellent place to walk around, complete with a statue dedicated to Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza.  IMG_0544(Hmm..I teach about this. Suppose this trip is now a write off as a business trip? Maybe not.) Moving on from Spanish literature, we were able to sit by the band shell for a bit to listen to a classical music competition and we checked out the DeYoung Museum and their Summer of Love 1967-2017 exhibit. It was fascinating to see their comparison of social issues in 1967 and social issues in 2017.  Sadly, not much has changed.  A big change, however, was when Russell and I went to use the bathroom facilities in the museum.  It was our first encounter with gender neutral bathrooms.  The signs were up, but in reality the men were in one and the women in another although they were not marked as such. I headed into the one with women by the entry and turned and told Russell to follow me and he froze until another woman at the sink said, “Come in! They’re all genders.” And so he did. Reluctantly.  It was great! As many couples know, there is always that post-bathroom confusion when couples separate for their respective bathrooms. (Did he already come out?  Am I waiting in the wrong place?) So, bravo, San Francisco!  This hetero cis female found it very convenient.

Leaving the park we headed to the bus stop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the center of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. IMG_0497 IMG_0533IMG_0495Our bus returned us to the Union Square area after passing through the rest of the city and all of its architectural gems.  IMG_0498From there we checked out a huge Indian festival going on in the square and then tucked into the Last Drop Tavern http://www.lastdrophappyhour.com/ for their excellent happy hour specials.  With the jaw-dropping price of drinks (and food) on the West Coast, we began to make happy hour our new friend on this trip.

Afterward, we walked all over downtown for one last soaking-in of San Francisco.  The following morning we picked up our rental car and made our way out of the city, hitting Highway 1, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and heading north toward Mendocino.  Stay tuned for Part Two—Northern California!

Wowed in Oaxaca

Twenty years ago Russell and I honeymooned in Mexico, traveling for two weeks between Huatulco, on the coast of Oaxaca, and Mexico City, and so to celebrate our anniversary we decided to revisit the Oaxacan Coast seeing how much the cities of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido had changed.  We also planned to stay in the village of Mazunte, where we had never been before, located between the two cities.

Whereas the first trip to the Oaxacan Coast took place in June of 1997, when it was so humid you were sweating in the pool, we did this visit in March when it was still 90 degrees everyday but much drier.  When I asked the manager of the hotel when it rained last, she replied, “November?” The result was a landscape that looked like one spark away from a forest fire.  Definitely not the lush, rainy season look I had recalled.

We flew into Huatulco on a nonstop from Minneapolis and were transported by Best Day to the Hotel Santa Fe http://hotelsantafe.com.mx/  on Zicatela Beach in Puerto Escondido, about two hours west.  We had stayed here 20 years ago, solely based on its sign boasting aire acondicionado.  I remembered the area to be rather desolate around the hotel.  Not anymore! Playa Zicatela, an internationally known area for surfers, had exploded into a community more happening than Puerto Escondido itself.  We settled into our room at the Santa Fe and grabbed some lunch from their restaurant, recreating our photo from 20 years ago.  The hotel had expanded with a new wing of rooms, adding a second pool and patio area.  It was so colonial and beautiful and very peaceful as we were surrounded by travelers from Europe and Canada that were mostly of the 40+ demographic.

The first night we walked down the beach to dinner at a restaurant called Fresh, and arrived just in time for sunset.  Maybe it was the people watching on the sand, maybe it was the sun painting the sky, or maybe it was the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc I was drinking, but for some reason I forgot to photograph any of the food we had there, even though it was some of the best.  The Mussels Rockefeller made me want to cry.  We were stuffed when we declined their offer of dessert, but miraculously about two blocks later I found myself buying a Magnum ice cream bar from a mini-mart.  Funny how the stomach works.

The following day began with yoga on the patio overlooking the Pacific and then a trip to the breakfast legend of Playa Zicatela, Cafecito.  We made the mistake of both ordering chilaquiles  when we probably couldn’t have even finished one order.  That, paired with great coffee and huge glasses of fresh orange juice, made us sleepy enough to head back to the hotel for a mid morning poolside nap, disguised as reading.  This day we were joined by a new friend, a large iguana whose family pretty much had the run of the place. I alternated between watching him, reading, and swimming in the pool with my new favorite toy—the noodle doughnut!  I loved this thing and basically claimed it as my own the first day I arrived, only to be greatly annoyed later when it went missing, only to be discovered in the other pool around a small child.  I was really proud of the restraint I exercised by letting him have it so I rewarded myself with a detour to the bar and a piña colada, which, like my lost toy, made the pool more fun.

That night, which would be our last in Puerto Escondido before heading to Mazunte in the morning, we decided to walk the beach into town to the Adoquín a pedestrian street in the heart of Puerto.  I figured we would stroll around here before dinner for awhile, visiting shops, and hanging out.  However, the street was a heat filled canyon cluttered with junk vendors that after one lap had us searching for a cool (temperature, not ambiance) restaurant to escape to.  The winner was a French restaurant mentioned in many guidebooks called Pascale.  The tables on the deck overlooking the main beach had a glorious breeze, thank God!  With great music playing in the background, we shared a terrific meal of mixed grilled seafood with grilled vegetables and a nice bottle of wine.  We even splurged on a crème brulee, that was outstanding.  I was thinking it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had, but as I said earlier, funny how the stomach works.

That night I was awakened by that stomach at 4:00 am. I won’t get into the ugly details but let’s say I either had food poisoning or cholera.  Luckily Russell was fine, except for having to be in the room with me.  This sickness lasted the next three days.  Luckily I survived the taxi ride to Mazunte, but the three day “flu” could not come at a worse time.  You see, in Mazunte we had booked three nights at the Hotel Zoa Secreto http://zoahotel.com/ .  This exclusive property had just five private cabanas set on the side of a hill with infinity pool and everything one would ever imagine in a getaway in paradise.  But most importantly, we had booked a honeymoon package that included all of our gourmet meals.  While we were there, there was only one other couple two of the nights and we were the only guests one night.  So basically we would have a private chef.  For a foodie like me, this was going to be a dream stay!  Yes, the place was gorgeous, but it was All. About. The. Food.

So one can imagine my disappointment when I had zero appetite and an unwelcoming stomach the ENTIRE time we were there!  The chef would come out and tell Russell all about the fresh catch of the day options, detailing his preparations—all the things I live for on a vacation.  Russell would make his selection of a shrimp Diablo or grilled seafood tostada and I would request either a boiled chicken breast or a plate of plain cooked spaghetti, or when even those didn’t stay down, “tea, please, yes, just tea”.  The chef felt bad, but not as bad as I did.  But once I had resigned myself to not eating, I just went with the flow (no pun intended) and enjoyed myself to the fullest.  Lounging by what was basically our private pool, requesting hibiscus water, lemonade, tea, and ice water all day was still pretty great.  We would lie and read in the hammock area and I ventured down to the tiny beach/cave area.  I even felt well enough to do yoga on the deck of our cabana every morning.  I just couldn’t eat.  Russell would rave about the food and it smelled and looked great, but the urge to eat was gone.  I even asked Russell one day, “Will I ever be hungry again?” (the answer is yes—in two more days) One upside was that I was the thinnest I’d ever been half way through a vacation.  I wished I’d brought a scale!  Ha, ha.

On the last day of our stay, after we had lovely massages near our cabana,  I was feeling good enough to venture into San Agustinillo, where the hotel manager said I might find a nicer artisan shop than in Mazunte.  We walked into town to the shop and then along the beach which is one of the best that I have ever been on.  During our walk back to the hotel, UP the hill, I begged Russell to let us take my new favorite transportation, pasajeras, which are small pickup trucks with benches in the back and a tarp over the top.  These are how the locals get around and we saw them all over Oaxaca.  I love this kind of thing, but Russell just gave me that look and we kept walking.  Drats.

Back at Zoa, the chef and staff were busy preparing for our special private dinner.  All efforts were being made to create a private area away from the main dining area (even though we were the only guests that night, so really the whole place was private!).   That evening we were greeted by the chef at the end of the swinging bridge and led down the stone steps, now strewn with flower petals and lit by candle luminaries.  The hammock area had been transformed into a private, candlelit dining room and it was spectacular.  After being served our wine and an enormous appetizer of mahi mahi and octopus Carpaccio, I was determined that I would eat even if wasn’t hungry.  After we polished off the appetizer clearly meant for eight people, the chef brought down the main entrée—an entire salt encrusted red snapper.  And a bowl of whipped potatoes.  My stomach had shrunk to the size of a raisin, but I pressed on.  Even Russell looked like he might pass out.  And so we ate more and it was fantastic and the ambiance made it a really special evening.  If you have the chance to visit this amazing hotel, please do it.  They sure know how to treat their guests.  They really cover all the details.  They even greet you when you arrive with a wet washcloth that was in the refrigerator and an ice cold glass of hibiscus tea. Nice!

The final morning there, my appetite returned so I not only had a gluttonous breakfast, but Russell spotted three whales in the distance so that was awesome.   A few more laps in the pool, sighs on our deck, and we were out the door headed to Huatulco.

Huatulco can best be described as a “created city”.  The Mexican tourism department known as FONATUR used a computer years ago to identify the next big tourist area.  This is also how Cancun was created in the 70’s.  When we visited back in 1997 they were still setting up the infrastructure for the area and it has changed greatly.  Because of the “inorganic” way it came to be, Huatulco lacks the soul of other towns on the Oaxacan Coast, but it has the best airport in the area and nine bays of beautiful beaches, so a person could do a lot worse on vacation.  After spending three days feeling like celebrities we pulled into the Hotel Quinta Bella in Huatulco http://www.quintabellahuatulco.com/ on  Playa Chahue.  The beach was great and the hotel was nice but it is tough to go from a chill place like the Hotel Santa Fe and the Shangri-La that is Hotel Zoa to the 20 room Quinta Bella.  All of the rooms have private plunge pools and all overlook the pool and beach.  It is very beautiful but there were a few families there and it was the first real “kid noise” we had experienced in days so that took some adjustment!  The infinity pool there was great for gazing out at the bay and all of the boats coming and going from the nearby marina.  The restaurant served really great pizza, which I inhaled now that I was back to normal.  That paired with an afternoon of sipping cheladas (beer over ice and a squeezed lime) was pretty fantastic.  The hotel is quite new and is nice, with the exception of some of the tacky room décor including this lamp–WHY?

However, one of my complaints here was one of the parents by the pool.  She had two small children that she basically left unsupervised all afternoon.  Oh, she was in her chair, right by the pool, but her nose was stuck so far into her phone for hours that she failed to notice her daughter shrieking for no reason every three minutes and her son climbing over the side of the infinity pool, falling onto the sand of the beach, rolling around in it, and climbing back, sand and all, into the pool.  Mamá of the Year!

That evening we taxied down to the Zocalo area of La Crucecita, which is essentially the “town” of the Huatulco area. We had a nice time strolling around, watching an impromptu break dance performance, visiting the church with the largest image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the world, checking out local vendors on the plaza, buying a bunch of tiny alebrijes, Oaxacan wooden folk art, and just soaking it all in, including this sign outside a bar.

The best meal we had in Huatulco was at a little Italian place overlooking the marina called 7 Tavoli La Taverna.  On the way there, we passed by a construction site and I’m guessing it’s been awhile since they have showed up to work!

Anyways, back to 7 Tavoli–they had a great menu plus specials on a big chalkboard they would drag from table to table.  We had a stellar dinner of a gorgonzola crostini, mixed seafood pasta,and shrimp pasta, the meal topped off with tiramisu and cappuccino. It was probably flavor-wise our best meal of the trip so it was a nice end to a trip that really was supposed to be all about the food, even though sometimes, stomachs do not cooperate.  Oh well, at least now I can join all the others who “went to Mexico and got sick.”

Isla! Just the Two of Us….no?

Upon booking our spring break to one of our favorite Mexican hideaways, Isla Mujeres, I had to text one of my friends to rub it in that we were heading back to Isla.  Imagine my surprise when he texted back that he and some other mutual friends from our small town had also just booked a vacation there during the same week! Their group of six soon grew to another group of six and so our private getaway became the best of both worlds–relaxing beach days for two followed by fun evenings out with friends. Like the never-experienced luxury of being on a tropical vacation in your own town!

And so we were off!  Russell gets so excited at the airport when we go on vacation.  russell-airportGlad to see the TSA didn’t crush all of his joy in the security check point.

Once in Mexico, typical days on Isla consisted of a morning beach walk and breakfast at our hotel, NaBalam http://www.nabalam.com.  A few days I went to yoga, once at Na Balam by a true yogi–a, dare I say, shaman?  This spiritual little guy made for a nice alternative to my usual yoga.  He even gave Russell an hour of yoga therapy during the week.  Another day I ventured down to yoga class on the skydeck of Cabanas María del Mar.  That yoga instructor was more California surfer than Indian guru, making me chuckle every time I was in a pose and he would prompt in his Zen-stoner vibe, “Relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxxxxxx”.

After the morning workouts, we would settle into our daily routine of sunbed surfing while overlooking beautiful North Beach.  After a regimen of read, swim, repeat, I waited until it seemed an appropriate and judgment-free time to order my afternoon bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and some lunch. isla-16 The new restaurant at Na Balam has fantastic food, like these octopus tostadas and fresh seafood ceviche. There’s just nothing better than lying in “bed” all day on one of the best Caribbean beaches while people bring you seafood and pour you wine.  Ahhh…..p1060398

As hard as it was to break up that lovely daytime routine, we agreed to go with our friends one day on a ride around the island on golf carts.  We’ve been to Isla several times and know the golf cart route well.  Our morning began with a ride along the windy, rough side of the island where we stopped to walk around awhile on the rock formations.  My friend Ron, doing his best impression of James Franco from 127 Hours.  Luckily he did not have to saw off his arm…p1060363

After working up an appetite from our climbing, we continued south to Colonia La Gloria, the neighborhood housing most of Isla’s residents.  Here we would find Mango Café, one of the top rated restaurants on Tripadvisor.  www.facebook.com/mangocafeisla

It seemed the word was out as this place was packed so we were told it would be about a 25 minute wait for a table.  We made the most of our wait by strolling around the neighborhood and befriending some little girls.  Some of them decided to use Russell for their hide and seek spot.  “Hey, let’s hide behind this big, white guy!”p1060366

And so our playdate was interrupted by a wave across the street signaling our table was ready.  ¡Adiós, chicas! The Mango Café did not disappoint!  Do not come here looking for a “light breakfast”.  Some of us ordered breakfast quesadillas while the others ordered the Stuffed Poblano Chile which came out as large as a deep fried football!p1060370An hour later we all waddled out of the place and continued further south, passing the Crayon Housep1060375and making our way to one of the island cemeteries.  If you’ve never visited a Mexican cemetery, it is a must.  Nothing scary here, looks more like a mini-golf course than anything from a Halloween movie. p1060380p1060376 The tiny mausoleums are interesting and made for a nice little digestive stroll.  *Side note, one should not consume 3,000 calories before noon. And so we were off again to Punta Sur, the southernmost point of the island, where conveniently there was a bar in a judgement-free zone so many in our group partook in a piña colada.  Nothing goes better on top of a deep fried football than a 600 calorie frothy drink! Ahhhh……vacation.

After a walk about and some photo ops on the lovely south end, p1060386

we were back on the carts and northbound up the calm, eastern side of the island.  With no agenda, we decided we would make stops as they called our attention so it was no surprise when our lead golf cart pulled into the Ice Bar.  A tourist trap if there ever was one, we went for it and donned our yeti-esque parkasp1060390 in the 90 degree lobby and entered the solid ice bar and its freezing temps.  I loved that we paid thousands of dollars to escape the cold and then paid money to be in the cold.  p1060395We Americans are so strange! Anyway, it was a fun thing actually and I know we really did need two more margaritas on top of the deep fried football.

After the Ice Bar, we stopped for lunch(????!!!!) at Playa Lancheros, a requirement when on the island.  It is a great spot to take a swim, which we did, and chill out for awhile before making the final journey north back to town and the hotels.  Of course we went out to dinner that night, don’t really remember what or where as I think my clothes were so tight it blocked circulation to my brain.  No more 10,000 calorie days on this trip I said the next morning.  Through sheer will power and restraint I was able to keep the rest of the trip below 5,000 a day.  I know, you are thinking about my sacrifice and I appreciate it.  A “diet” on vacation—what??

Anyways, the week went on with more sunning, swimming, reading, and wine, with a little snorkeling by the bridge mixed in for cardio.  Nights were a whirlwind of one great seafood dinner p1060416after the next at places like Rolandi’s Pizzeria, Asia Caribe, Muelle 7, Olivia’s, and Jax.  There were also some nice breakfasts at the market stands behind Na Balam and, of course, the out of this world Lobster Eggs Benedict at Rooster Café.

There were a lot of celebrations too that week on the island.  While sitting at a bar one evening, we watched the set up of a child’s birthday party in the street and restaurant next door.  Russell was instrumental in helping them hang their piñata p1060412and it was great watching the kids smash it in the street as tourists walked by.  We also got to celebrate our friend Karen’s birthday one night.  I think her birthday wish was to not get back on the ferry at the end of the week!  We started her big night in style with sunset cocktails on the balcony of their room at Ixchel Hotel.  It was so romantic watching the sun go down from that vantage point, till our friend Andy photo bombed our big moment….or did we photo bomb him?  Whatever.p1060441

As we had come to the last day of our trip, we decided that since we did originally book the trip as a romantic getaway that we should have one intimate dinner just the two of us, so we headed back to the south end where we dined at Maria’s Kan Kin. This was a truly memorable evening with patio seating overlooking the infinity pool.  We were there in time for sunset, which made for an even better view looking across the bay at the lights of Cancún. We started out with a shrimp appetizerp1060450 and finished up with a seafood pasta and this beautifully prepared grouper. Fantastic!p1060455

And so ended another great week on Isla Mujeres.  You just can’t go wrong with a vacation here.  And you never know what new friends, or in our case this time, old friends, you’ll run into!

As a parting note, whenever I go to Isla I try to think about jobs Russell and I could get here and maybe stay awhile.  I found that my translation skills could be needed at this supermarket. Mmmmmm….nothing more refreshing on a 90 degree day than a “cool” beer!

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Feeling the Heat in Miami Beach

ocean drive 2As a teacher, there is nothing better to get you through the end of the school year and final exams like my favorite carrot on a stick—a June trip!  The destination this year was the international hot spot of South Beach in Miami, Florida.  The trip goals were to eat Cuban food, practice my Spanish, and hit the beach P1060515for some people watching.  Mission accomplished.  As this was just a long weekend in “the 305”, my friend Pat and I decided to forego any typical tourist itineraries or jaunts into Little Havana and just stick around South Beach, only going as far as our feet would take us.  It is often said that being in Miami is like being in Latin America and even though we covered only about a 10 block radius, it felt like we had traveled through the entire Latino world!

For our stay we settled on the newly remodeled and reopened Washington Park Hotel http://www.wphsouthbeach.com/.  Although there are a few issues here and there, this hotel is on its way to being “the place”.  Request a room in the main building for the best rooms and to be closest to the breakfast spread, and most importantly, the nightly complimentary 2 hour wine, beer, and cheese reception!  Another highlight of this place is the great pool area P1060531that makes you think the Brat Pack may saunter by at any moment.  A wonderful amenity of this hotel is its beach chairs offered to its guests three blocks away at 9th Street Beach, the perfect spot for people watching as I will discuss later.

Not only is the Wolfsonian Museum http://www.wolfsonian.org/ just down the street (where we saw an incredible exhibit on Cuba), but it is walking distance from so many outstanding restaurants.  A great spot for breakfast or lunch was the hopping Eleventh Street Diner http://www.eleventhstreetdiner.com/ right across the street from the hotel.  We had dynamite crab cakes and Cobb salad P1060504here with some excellent lunch cocktails—my kind of “diner”!  Apparently this place was featured on a certain spiky-haired Food Network host’s show.  While these menu items are quite American, of course I had anticipated eating authentic Cuban fare, but the restaurant choices were so much more international than that!  We never had a bad meal, whether it was Cuban, Spanish, Italian, South American, or Japanese.

Here’s some of the more noteworthy places, beginning with my favorite evening spot—Española Way.  P1060493 - CopyThis little stretch not only had an excellent lineup of restaurants with European style outdoor seating, but the ambiance could not be beat!  An unexpected surprise was the Spanish restaurant at the end of the street.  Tapas y Tintos http://tapasytintos.com/  was so great we ended up there twice in one day!  I highly recommend the lunch deal for two which included sangria, two tapas, and terrific seafood paella for a ridiculously low price.  Having an excellent waiter from Spain who I could practice my Spanish with was a real plus and his suggestion to return for the evening flamenco show was a popular one as the place was packed that night, and for good reason!

Another great stop if you are having sushi cravings is Moshi Moshi http://www.moshimoshi.us/, just around the corner on Española Way.  The dragon rollP1060533 is enough for the whole table!  We also got our Italian fix at Pane & Vino http://www.paneevinomia.com/  and Café Nuvo, http://mercatodellapescheria.com/miami/mobi/, also in that area.  It is hard to imagine any Española Way restaurant not having great food!

Since walking to Little Havana was not an option, we chose Lario’s on the Beach http://bongoscubancafe.com/larios.html, owned by Emilio and Gloria Estefan, for our Cuban food experience, and it did not disappoint.  The ambiance was very upscale and we made a great meal out of appetizers P1060508and, of course, mojitos!P1060505

All these places were great, but the culinary highlight was our lunch at Bolivar http://www.bolivarmiamibeach.com/, a South American fusion restaurant with Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian specialties.  Our spread of empanadas, patacones (twice fried plantains), and six different types of ceviche was heavenly.  Not having had one of my favorite drinks, a Pisco Sour, since my trip to Peru, I was quick to order one, but after trying my friend’s “Bolivartini”, well, let’s just say the liquid part of bill was larger than the food part…P1060522

Enough about food and onto the people watching, which is really the highlight of a trip to SoBe.  Depending on your preferences of what type of folks you like to observe, I would say that the Española Way area is home to a quite a classy bunch of well dressed types.  Collins Avenue is still classy, but with more of a beach vibe, and Ocean Drive ocean driveis an all out mess of clubbing attire and swimwear, thumping music, and “the scene”.

And then there is the beach!  This stretch of sand and sea with a backdrop of high rises P1060516is home base for many of “the beautiful people”.  I was preparing for a European atmosphere here, considering its international reputation, but after the first two days and seeing mostly mainstream swimwear, P1060513I had lost hope of any great stories.  That was until the last day.

Arriving at our beach chairs, we noticed two ladies wearing tiny thongs and nothing else.  At that moment they were innocently lying on towels sunbathing and not drawing any attention to themselves.  I didn’t think much of it, but commented how odd we had not seen more topless women.  A few minutes later, one of the ladies, who I shall call Orange Arrow or OA, stood up.  I call her Orange Arrow, because that is what her thong looked like.  An orange arrow.  Pointing to…the ground?  This arrow must have been like a safety sign or something because soon many men began to take note, several walking past multiple times.  OA had a great figure, some of it possibly surgically enhanced, but most importantly she was very much into skin care.  I know this because at that moment, and about every 10 minutes thereafter, she proceeded to apply sunscreen.  She was really, REALLY into the application, which possibly consumed 8 minutes of the 10 minute intervals.  She worked the lotion into every inch of exposed skin.  Several minutes were spent rubbing lotion onto her buttocks. WHILE BENT AT THE WAIST!  This view made the entire population of the beach stop and stare, including all of the cabana boys working at our chair stand.  I don’t know what was better, watching her or watching everyone’s response to her. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of beach reading in that day, but it was a good reminder that the sun is not the only hot thing when you head to Miami Beach!

 

Rome Wasn’t Seen in a Day

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**Note to my readers:  Sorry it has been months since I have posted anything.  My beloved dog passed away earlier this year and I wasn’t feeling up to doing any writing.  Thank you for your patience during my hiatus.**

And now…back to Italy!

On paper, it looked like we spent three nights in Rome, but between an afternoon arrival, a morning departure, and over a day spent in Vatican City, we were probably left with the time equivalent of one day to see this great city.  We obviously knew we could only tackle so much, so we zeroed in on the Coliseum, a tourist bus circle of the city, lots of walking, and of course the very easy task of finding great food.

Exiting the train station, the first thing we noticed was the insanity of the traffic in Rome.  We were definitely not used to this coming from the towns of Tuscany and Umbria.  What a relief it was to hop into a cab with an elderly lady who talked on her cell phone in that traffic all the way to our hotel. Ha.P1050984 By the grace of God  we arrived at the Hotel Smeraldo http://www.smeraldoroma.com/en/ .  This place had a perfect location for walking to many areas—between the Piazza Venezia P1050999and the touristy market square of Campo De Fiori.  What our room lacked in size, it more than made up with its rooftop terraces, the small one just down the hall from our room becoming our own private wine terrace every night.P1050994

One of the things that we noticed after our first stroll in Rome was that our timing for seeing some of its most famous sites was not the best.  As we turned into the piazza of the Trevi Fountain, we were greeted by a construction site fence and zero water.  P1060009The statues surrounding the fountain are still beautiful but the chain link fence sucked away all the romantic ambience.

A few blocks away our arrival to the Spanish Steps was also slightly disappointing with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top of the steps hidden behind a construction screen.  img_1598The people-watching from the steps was still a nice break after all that walking beneath the Roman sun.

The construction zone didn’t just stop there—it also continued in the Coliseum.  P1060133I guess even an ancient ruin needs updates once in a while!  Thankfully the scaffolding on the outside did not diminish the awe we felt once we got inside.  I say “once we got inside” because I believe we had to wait in line two hours to get in.  If at all possible, make a reservation or sign up for a tour so you can avoid this line!  The visit of the Coliseum was so amazing and it made you feel small and insignificant being inside.  P1060139P1060150You know, like a building almost 2,000 years old should.

Following the Coliseum visit, we enjoyed a cruise around Rome on the top of a tourist bus.  It was a very welcome break from all the walking.  As we knew our time was limited we were at least able to view sites like the Castel Sant’Angelo, P1060115Pantheon, and Piazza Navona from the street.

Rome obviously had a much different feel than all of the other Italian cities we had visited.  While Russell couldn’t stand the traffic and the insanity of the city, I thrived on so much chaos.  One particularly enjoyable part of this chaos was eating at Ristorante Santa Anna http://www.ristorantesantanna.it/index.php?lang=en just down the street from our hotel.  While we dined on fantastic mussels and clams P1060020and risotto with shrimp and cream P1050990at the table just outside the door, cars whizzed by us on the narrow street as if we were not just two feet from them.  Fine cuisine AND adventure!  What’s not to like?

And speaking of food, this tale of Rome would not be complete without a nod to the best dining experience we had in the Eternal City.  Directly outside the entrance to Hotel Smeraldo is the Tratorria Moderna http://www.trattoriamodernaroma.com/ .  They say sometimes the best things are right under your nose, and this was no exception!  It is here that Russell began his “bromance” with our waiter, Daniel. P1060199 In fact we were so impressed with the place and Daniel’s service that we ate here two nights in a row!

On the first night as we perused the extensive menu and eyed up the entrees of surrounding diners, Daniel suggested to us a seafood appetizer feast that was not on the menu for 15 euro a person.   I am usually suspect of these type of “deals” because they never are.  But we decided to go for it and were glad we did!  Out came a plate of raw oysters, steamed mussels and clams, sea bass ceviche, octopus salad, P1060189sea bass tartare with couscous, smoked salmon with melon, goat cheese and arugula, P1060192and crostini with shrimp and balsamic vinegar.  W.O.W.  One of the best meals I have ever had.  And to top that off, Daniel presented us with complimentary tiramisu at the end!  Needless to say, this is why we returned again 24 hours later, this time ending our meal with complimentary limoncello.  What a place–definitely at the top of my list of recommendations in a city teeming with great food.

So, would I recommend more time in Rome?  Of course.  But when you’ve already been in Italy for two weeks, spending a day or two here is a nice way to scratch the surface and let you know what you really want to see the next time you return.  I think the city will be around a while longer!